Where to begin on Stan Lee? Many consider him the father of the Marvel Universe. He worked for the company back when it was called Timely Comics and continues to work for Marvel today. He worked in collaboration with artists such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, creating such icons as the Fantastic Four, Hulk, the X-Men, Iron Man and Spider-Man as well as assembling the Avengers. He helped promote and grow Marvel into the media juggernaut it is today. We’ll cover facts from his early life to his time in the army to his extensive career at Marvel comics. There are 95 years of ground to cover so let’s get to it! Here are 10 things you didn't know about Stan Lee:
Stan Lee isn’t his real name
The man we know as Stan Lee was born Stanley Martin Lieber on December 28, 1922 in New York City. The moniker Stan Lee was a pen name of sorts for Stan’s comic book writing. He created it by making a rather obvious pun on his name, Stanley. He hoped to save his real name for his “real” writing career where he would write “serious” stuff, whatever that means. But as his comics grew bigger and bigger and kept paying the bills, Stan’s professional name stuck with him. What was supposed to be a temporary and forgotten pen name, is now a household name! It’s been credited in not only comics, but also film and television. He adopted Stan Lee as his legal name which was probably a smart move since he conducts so much business under that name. He’s not only published under that name but also founded companies under it. Stan Lee Media was a superhero creation, production, and marketing studio. Unfortunately, the studio went bankrupt in February of 2001.Advertisement
He started working for Marvel at age 19!
A bit of familial help goes a long way. When Stan Lee was nineteen, his uncle, Robbie Solomon, got him a job at the pulp magazine company Timely Comics. That company would eventually become the company we know today, Marvel Comics. Stan worked the position of “Assistant Editor.” He got to work with the comics, polishing them up, proofreading them and helping the Head Editor get them ready for publication. But he spent most of his time sharpening pencils, filling inkwells, and fetching lunch. It wasn’t exactly glamorous work for the young writer, who was itching to start his own work. He made his comics debut in 1941, writing the text filler for Captain America Comics #3. With his first comic, he made his mark by introducing Captain America’s iconic, physics-defying shield toss.
He served in the Army
In 1942, just a year after his comics debut, Stan joined the army. Luckily, he did not see any combat and worked on the home front rather than going to the front lines. There’s probably a darker timeline where Stan Lee served on the front lines and comics as we know them are very different. At first, Stan served in the Signal Corps. He fixed telegraph poles and other communications equipment. This was a pretty far cry from what he was doing before. Fortunately, the U.S. Army better utilized Stan’s talents and transferred him to the Training Film Division. There he was given the classification, “playwright” which only nine other men had at the time. He wrote instruction manuals and training films. He even drew some cartoons, which may be surprising to people who only know him as a writer.
He considered quitting the comics industry
To quote the musical Hamilton, “after the war, he went back to New York.” By then Timely Comics was known as Atlas Comics and Stan went back to work writing for them. He wrote in a variety of genres, including horror, science fiction, romance, and Westerns. But by the 1950s, this wasn’t satisfying to Stan anymore. He wanted to do the more serious work that we mentioned earlier in the article. His wife encouraged him to do what he wanted on his newest assignment, a story about a superhero team since he was considering quitting the industry any way. So instead of writing about paragons of moral virtue, he wrote about flawed, but heroic people. He called this team of anti-heroes The Fantastic Four. As we all know, the comic was a huge hit. People loved Stan’s more naturalistic, flawed characters and Stan loved writing them so he continued to work in the comics industry.
He helped pioneer a new way of writing comics
Anyone who is familiar with comics knows about the Marvel Method. Basically, a writer will create a plot summary, the artist will draw the comic based on that and then the writer will go back and fill in the dialogue. This method was pioneered by Stan and Steve Ditko. Stan simply had too much on his plate during the 1960s to write full comics scripts for each and every comic he was writing. So he would write summaries for Ditko and other artists to draw. This allowed him to work on every comic Marvel produced, moderate the editorial column and write his own column, “Stan’s Soapbox” as well as start to get involved with this business side of the company. This also allowed the artists greater creative freedom and a stronger influence on the storytelling side of creating comics.
He stood up to the Comics Code Authority
For some context, the Comics Code Authority, was an organization that allowed the comics industry to self-regulate the content of their comics. The alternative would have been having the government regulate the books. The code is remembered by many as draconian, forbidding the slightest depictions of sex, violence and most importantly to this story, drug use. This became problematic when the U. S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare asked Stan to write a story about the dangers of drug use. Stan wrote the a subplot in the Amazing Spider-Man about Spidey’s best friend becoming addicted to pills. The Comics Code of Authority refused to give their seal of approval, but Stan published the comic anyway. When the sky didn’t end and the comics industry didn’t collapse, the Comics Code Authority decided to loosen their regulations. Now, the Authority is obsolete and no comic book company seeks their approval.
He stopped writing monthly comics in 1972
In 1972, Stan Lee’s role at Marvel comics changed. His last issue of The Amazing Spider-Man came out July of 1972 and his last issue of Fantastic Four came out in August, 1972. He did not stop writing but rather just stopped writing regularly on Marvel’s monthly comics. He worked on the Spider-Man monthly newspaper strip with his brother and collaborated on The Silver Surfer: The Ultimate Cosmic Experience with Jack Kirby. While this would be their final collaboration, it was Marvel Comics first graphic novel. Stan took on the title publisher in 1972 to spend more time on the marketing and promotion side of things. Even though he was a lifelong New Yorker, he moved to the West coast to work on Marvel’s television and film projects. He quickly became the face of the company, attending panels at comic conventions and even lecturing on college campuses!
He didn’t just write for Marvel comics
While Stan is best known for his work at Marvel, he did do some work at Marvel’s distinguished competitor, DC Comics. In the 2000s, Stan wrote the Just Imagine… series where he reinvented DC’s superheroes in the Marvel style. Most of the heroes were given alliterative names, of course. Stan usually gave his heroes alliterative names to make them easy to remember. For example, Bruce Wayne became Wayne Williams. Par for the course, He revised the iconic heroes to be more human and flawed, less godlike and more like his Marvel heroes. He also added diversity to the iconic heroes. His version of Batman is African-American and his version of the Flash is a white woman. Naturally, these characters all came together to form Stan Lee’s version of the Justice League of America. It was revealed in Grant Morrison’s The Multiversity that these versions of the characters still exist and live on Earth-6.
He didn’t always have his trademark mustache
It’s hard to picture Stan Lee with his little pencil mustache. He’s had it for years and he’s worn it in every Marvel movie he has cameoed in. One might think that he always wore it as part of his persona. But he used to have a full beard to go along with the mustache. It’s unknown why Stan changed his facial hair. Maybe he just preferred it to the beard. But rumour has it is that he changed it because a nasty caricature of himself that Jack Kirby drew. The character Funky Flashman in Mister Miracle is widely considered to be a parody of Stan Lee. The character is convening, money grubbing and not at all flattering. Stan may have shaved off his beard to avoid association with the character. But knowing the context, that Stan and Kirby collaborated and then had a falling out, the connection is still pretty obvious.
He has a comic book autobiography
If you want to know more about Stan, there’s a comic for that! In 2015 Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir was published. It details Stan’s life and his time in comics. The illustrations by Colleen Doran are gorgeous, following him from his start in New York to his residence in L.A. today. We see his childhood during the Great Depression and his rise to success. And no, the book was not ghost written. Doran promises on her blog that she “has the script to prove” Stan really wrote the book. It’s full of tips about writing and funny anecdotes (including how Stan meet Fabio). It’s bombastic and colorful, just like the man himself is. You can practically see him gesticulate and hear his voice as you read through the bright pages. If you want to read more about Stan the Man, Amazing, Fantastic Incredible is a good place to start.